12 March 2007

The Man of Mode – National Theatre, Friday 9th March 2007

Oh dear, I thought. Another of these Restoration so-called “Comedies”. Another one “wittily updated” to make it seem more “relevant”. I was planning to secrete a paperback in my trouser pocket or paint open eyes on the lenses of my glasses and nod off behind them. But what a revelation. The play was originally set in 17th century London – a place “obsessed with having it all, a place where young people are driven to have the latest clothes, the latest gossip and each other’s bodies” – just like London today, which is where this production is very firmly placed. With its sly (and not so sly) digs at pretentious gallery openings, society florists, daft fashions, the cult of “celebrity” and smarmy, manipulative City boys shagging anything with a pulse, it could have been written yesterday. So well was the production thought out that the modern anachronisms really didn’t jar at all. I had been a bit worried that the plot device of the arranged marriage might be rather shoe-horned in, but in this production the two families are Indian, which of course is up-to-date as you can get with all the current hoohaa in the press. There were (apparently) a few updates from the original text, but I doubt if anyone would have noticed unless you were a real Restoration Comedy Freak. I liked the device of using text messages rather than the handwritten notes being passed from one character to another, and the part where Sir Foppington’s unwittingly hysterical performance on the piano was captured on mobile phones – you just KNOW that its going to hit the Internet within 30 minutes.

Tom Hardy was fantastic as the slimy, manipulative Doriant. His “body acting” was incredible to watch – whether he had been taught this or was inherent is difficult to tell. He has a great body anyway, and used it to underscore practically everything he said and every move he made – in the very natural way that those blessed with great bodies do in real life. A lascivious comment would be accompanied with a slight flick of the hips, a knockback paired with a subtle squaring of the shoulders or flexing of the biceps; you were aware at all times of his body language without having to see the body underneath his suit –although having seen him in his Calvins, I would quite happily let him kick me out of bed, but only so that he could do me on the floor. I also thought it was fantastic the way he made the most out of his lips, which have that touch of Michael Portillo about them. In fact, at the point when he was smarming Indira Joshi’s wonderful Lady Woodvill, I was convinced that Portillo was who he was imitating.

Excellent though he was, Hardy had to enter into a fiercely competitive two-horse race to take the acting honours whenever Rory Kinnear (Sir Fopling Flutter) appeared on stage. It was literally neck and neck all the way, and I think that Kinnear may well have won by a nose. He was brilliant –funny, charming and quite unwittingly pathetic (in the real sense of the word as well as the accepted sense). What made him so fab was that he played the role as if he was truly unaware that his uber-fashionable designer clothes were, in fact, making him look like mutton dressed as lamb – a male version of Edina Monsoon. For the first 10 minutes or so, I had problems with his performance, thinking that he was playing it too much in the style of a large, cuddly version of James Dreyfuss, but he soon won me over – and if he would ever like to come clubbing with me, then he’d be very welcome!

I wasn’t quite so impressed with some of the ladies on stage – Abby Ford made a very scraggy, colourless, practically emaciated Emilia and I really didn’t think that a stud like Doriant would have gone for that type (unless for her money, of course). Nancy Carroll’s Mrs. Loveit didn’t really come off either – but then I must admit that I was prejudiced because she looked like someone I used to work for and didn’t really like a great deal. Penny Ryder gave a good account of Pert – rather like a poor man’s Felicity Kendall.

Costumes were excellent – lots of thought obviously given to shoes – although Abby Ford looked like a bag of rags tied in the middle with string most of the time. Loved Hardy’s beautifully cut suit, which enhanced the sexy body beneath with great style. And Kinnear’s first costume was one I would be happy to wear myself (minus the tassels and fringing, of course). Great dancing as well all the way through, terrifically choreographed.

A great night out – and made all the better by the fact that I fully expected to loathe the whole thing.

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